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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Sandra Combs, a Republican candidate for the state House, District 14, which includes the Kauai communities of Hanalei, Princeville, Kilauea, Anahola, Kapaa and Wailua. There is one other candidate, Democrat Nadine Nakamura.
Name: Sandra Combs
Office seeking: State House District 14
Community organizations/prior offices held: Union representative, Association of University Women; Tri-Counties School to Career Council; Association of Women Executives; Association of School Administrators; Parks and Recreation Commission, Cambridge Community College Board; Yuba City Charter School Board; Na Pualei O Ka Honua Board
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 58
Place of residence: Kapaa, Kauai
Campaign website: www.voteforsandi.com
1. This year has seen an outsized influence from people who want big changes in how government is run. What would you do to change how the Legislature is run?
Happy people do not protest. The overwhelming theme of this election year has been change – on both the Republican and the Democrat sides. Getting a real understanding of the people’s discontent is important. Utilizing electronic communications methods and publicizing the goings-on of the government in order to both inform and involve the public is key. The one thing that I have learned being a teacher is that people are not passive learners or participants. Involving the citizenry in the governance process would be a priority in changing the way things are done.
2. Hawaii is the only Western state without a statewide citizen’s initiative process. Do you support such a process?
I teach Participation in Democracy to high school students and I explain to them that the citizen’s initiative process is the process of initiatives and referendums allowing citizens to place new legislation on a popular ballot, or to place legislation that has recently been passed by a legislature on a ballot for a popular vote and involves people in their own government, but not in Hawaii. When elected officials make the process so complicated that it requires professional politicians to navigate the system, it is a far departure from the vision of governance that our forefathers created. I support the process that allows for groups of citizens to directly instigate legislative change.
3. Hawaii has long been dominated by the Democratic Party establishment. Should this change, and if so, how?
The multi-party system allows for a check and balance in our legislative process. Kind of like a dad with a big heart who wants to give his kids everything and a mom who hold the purse and is the voice of reason when it comes to the family budget. In Hawaii the Democrat domination has created a void when it comes to that voice of reason. Having both parties more equally represented would aid in a balance of spending and taxation and accountability and transparency. However, the lack of Republicans has ferreted out those Democrats who are more Republican in their thinking.
4. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Nexus lines between a lobby group and an elected official need to be investigated and impropriety needs to be punished. The consequences need to be severe enough to dissuade individuals from violations — from fines and removal from office up to and including criminal prosecution.
5. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
When a public record can be made available digitally there should be no cost when it is in the public interest.
6. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Accessibility by the citizenry to elected officials is critical. This is especially true during the legislative session (from January until May) when neighbor island legislators are staying on Oahu and are making decisions that should have input by their constituents. Maintaining an office in my home district will allow people to have a place where they can go and get information and go and express their opinions and ideas. A direct digital link to the in-session Legislature will be broadcast and a means to synchronously express their opinions will be made available. In other words, there will be a place where you can go and watch what is going on and give real-time opinions on the process. In addition, using Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram will give the public access to what is happening in the Legislature. When the Legislature is out of session I will be accessible, visible and participating in my home district.
7. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The high cost of housing is the single most pressing issue effecting the quality of life of the members of my district. The families that can least afford it are paying 50 percent or greater of their income for housing. The lack of housing inventory in all price points has a ripple effect and affordable housing is virtually nonexistent. The effects are far-reaching in that people are forced to work more than one job, parents are absent from the home when kids get out of school, families have little time together and when students go away to college, they cannot come back to live because they cannot afford to pay for housing.
There is no single solution because the problem is multi-faceted. Addressing inventory, developer incentive, and economic development are just a few avenues to be explored. It is time to get creative and we need all of the best thinkers on the task. What works in one community, such as Kapaa, may not be the right solution for Princeville. Getting everyone’s involvement will insure that we maintain the character of each individual community and provide the needed housing.
8. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development, yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?
The economic development of the area must match the character and goals of those living in the area. Communication and community input is important to avoid mismatch. When the community wants one thing and certain types of economic development are implemented without their input, it creates an atmosphere of hostility. The result is the political climate we are seeing. People want to be heard. In many cases, once people have had an opportunity to speak and even if they are out-voted, they defer to the majority. Communication and clarity of intent avoid problems. The citizenry do not appreciate feeling like they’ve been deceived. The biggest interest in preserving environmental resources belongs to the people who live there. They have valuable input and great ideas for economic development. We need to tap into and encourage and provide incubators for those ideas, developing solutions from within the community.
9. What should the Legislature do to improve police accountability?
Require body cameras.
10. Hawaii is the fastest-aging state. What would you do to ensure we’re taking care of our kupuna?
Contracts should be upheld. Our kupuna have paid into a system with the contracted understanding that they would be taken care of when the time came. This is not an entitlement — it is a contractual obligation. Seniors should have medical care and prescriptions without out-of-pocket expense and housing at a reasonable cost. Families that provide housing for their elders should have a tax credit.
11. What would you do to improve Hawaii’s public education system?
One of the defining features of a private education is that parents vote with their dollars. They have a far greater “say” in how things are run and how educational dollars are spent. This feature is noticeably absent from the public school system of Hawaii. The monolithic one statewide school district with an appointed school board and appointed superintendent of instruction ensures that the specific desires of local school families will not be heard. How could they be? There is no mechanism in place to hear their concerns. There is no accountability to the voting public as to how more than 50 percent of the state budget is spent. Decentralizing the Department of Education would be a huge step in creating more public accountability and give voice to community members.